[아시아엔=카투나 차피차드제 <아시아엔> 조지아특파원, 조지아공대 교수] 이란의 핵협정과 관련한 JCPOA에 대해서 매우 긍정적이고 진보적인 평가가 내려졌었다. 이란이 미국·중국·러시아·영국·프랑스 그리고 유엔 등 P5+1과 체결한 지속적인 핵 프로그램 합의를 말하는 것이다.
그러나, 여타 협약국과 달리 미국의 트럼프 대통령은 지난 5월 이 협약에서 탈퇴를 선언했다. 더욱 문제인 것은 이란의 석유와 가스 무역에 대한 제재와 관련해 미국의 재승인 시한이 시시각각 다가오고 있는 것이다.
하지만 이란이 가까운 장래에 러시아와 긴장감을 유발하면서까지 특정지역에서 도발 행동을 하지는 않을 것이다. 이란은 그동안 러시아를 남카프카스 지역의 오랜 맹주로 여겨왔다.
이란은 러시아의 군사적, 경제적 영향력 확대에 적절히 대응해야 하기 때문에 더욱 그렇다. 이란은 러시아와 관련해 지속적으로 ‘유연한 외교정책’을 쓰고 있다. 이는 남카프카스에서 러시아의 영향력과 균형을 맞추기 위한 가장 안전한 방법인 것이다.
이를 통해 중동지역 강대 세력들과 러시아를 한데 묶어, 미국을 비롯한 서방세력들을 적절히 견제할 수 있기 때문이다. (요약 김소현 기자·번역 조일연 인턴기자)
Iran as an Increasing Regional Power in the South Caucasus Iran nuclear deal
Quite progressive and optimistic assessment of significance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, i.e. Iran’s long-term deal on its nuclear programme with the P5+1 group of world powers-the U.S., UK, France, China, Russia, Germany and the European Union signed on July 14, 2015, has not been big news. However, the U.S. President Donald Trump’s recently(on May 8, 2018) announced withdrawal of the States from the deal makes the latter undoubtedly fragile in spite of the European participants staying loyal to their commitments. At the same time, more alarming seems the upcoming re-imposition of the U.S. sanctions, which will target critical sectors of the Iranian economy, and are expected to particularly include restrictions on the international trade of the country, especially to sell its oil and gas worldwide.
Noteworthy is to mention in parallel that Iran, despite some violations that have been majorly assessed as not of a serious character, is recognized being in compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal implementation.
Although, according to some analysts, as of May 2016, there were three facts of severe breach of the nuclear deal and UN resolutions by Iran that could not be considered unimportant. However, the global players, and especially, the West never responded to such violations in an adequate manner. Based on the given logic, inactive position of the global actors had its reasons; China and Russia are in strategic, geopolitical and economic alliance with Tehran, and Iran’s balancing role against the U.S. and its allies is beneficial for them. Due to this, those two countries could even justify Iran breaching the nuclear deal or UN resolutions, while the U.S. under the Obama Administration avoided to put in risk the fate of its revolutionary achievement indeed?the nuclear agreement. As for France, the UK, and other European states, which in general mainly follow the Iranian policy line of Washington, and have increasing economic and trade relations with Iran, particularly in the sphere of energy(oil and gas), obviously, they also have not raised any claims against Iran breaching the deals.
New opportunities and outcomes
Along with the nuclear agreement, noteworthy to mention new opportunities emerged as a consequence of lifting sanctions previously imposed by the UN, U.S. and EU in an attempt to force Iran to halt uranium enrichment. And besides the opportunities, already quite fruitful outcomes, especially towards economic development, have to be taken into consideration for Iran on the international arena in the post-sanctions reality. These aspects are very topical when we are addressing Iran as an increasing regional power in the Middle East and South Caucasus as well, in which context too the re-imposition of the U.S. sanctions could also play a detrimental role, not discussing the anticipated sad total repercussions of such sanctions for the country’s overall economy. In spite of the latest circumstances, it is of much significance to realize relatively new fact that Iran has emerged as a new legitimate actor, in minimum on the regional level.
The International North-South Transport Corridor(INSTC)
Taking into account Iran’s in general rich and in some cases almost exclusive potential for energy(through oil and gas), trade and economic, transportation and communication development, it is rather realistic that the new regional actor will first of all use the economic influence strengthening mechanisms in the region of our interest?the South Caucasus. In addition to this, there are obvious efforts of spreading the Iranian culture and religion, which with the Iranian businessmen’s active South Caucasian activity has started even during the period of Iran’s international isolation. Iran employing instruments for gaining and increasing its economic and cultural influence in the South Caucasus even before the nuclear deal, on one hands reveals the country’s decision in favor of the “soft power” strategy and its ambition to become a balancing force against Russia in the region, while on the other hands Iran keeps acting very carefully towards Russia-maintaining and enhancing trade and economic relations with it. The illustration of this is strategically very important energy and transport project-the International North-South Transport Corridor(INSTC), for participating in which Armenia and Azerbaijan significantly competed, and subsequently Iran, due to the economic, geographical, and other advantageous factors, supported also Russia’s candidature?Azerbaijan. Currently, in the anticipation of the U.S. re-imposition of the sanctions, Azerbaijan and India have an obvious favored position over Iran in the mentioned project not only in financial terms, but also in political and decision-making regards, and there is being discussed the possibility of moving the INSTC headquarters located in Iran, to Baku, Azerbaijan.
We have to conclude that despite the new opportunities emerged in an aftermath of the nuclear deal and lifting of the sanctions, Iran does not seem to become specifically active in the region of our interest in the nearest future, especially on the expense of logically caused potential tension with Russia. Iran is to always consider the Russian factor as of the traditionally dominant player in the South Caucasus, first of all based on its increasing military and economic parameters, and develops strongly pragmatic trade and economic cooperation with the competitor. At the same time though, Iran keeps using “soft power”-less risky and well-proven mechanism in the contemporary era in order to increase its influence and balance Russia in the South Caucasus, as well as counterweight Western actors, besides Russia, in the Middle East.
This conclusion containing in fact skepticism regarding the possibility of a particular increase of Iran’s role in the South Caucasus in the nearest future is supported by the analysis of Iran’s relations with the South Caucasian countries that even due, but not limited to the Russian factor can be changeable, reveal pragmatism, carefulness towards Russia, and at the same time include striving for the spread of the “soft power” as a priority. Noteworthy is to take into consideration recently weakened, however still significant general interests and the issue of influence of the West in the South Caucasus.
It is interesting that Iran’s traditional, more or less unstable relations with Azerbaijan, and cooperation with Armenia appears to be more dynamic even on the example of the INSTC project; Azerbaijan’s participation in the project instead of Armenia, which stands as more profitable for Iran in economic and geographical regards, as well as due to also Russia’s support for Azerbaijan(Russia seemed to majorly have the same motives for recommending Azerbaijan’s candidature for the project), rather than Armenia’s alternative involvement possibility before the launching and development of INSTC, to our deepest belief, represents a solid argument in favor of illustrating the cold pragmatism from the side of regional actors: Iran and Russia.
In parallel, the International North-South Transport Corridor seems also to have a different ambition of weakening the Western actors’ influence in the South Caucasus, in particular, the one of Turkey, Georgia, and the U.S. It is worth mentioning that Iranian-Georgian relations are example of pragmatism, employment of the “soft power” strategy, and considering the Russian factor as well.
For us claiming the likelihood of proceeding with and strengthening the “soft power” strategy in future as well, Iran’s economic, trade, transport, and energy projects, as well as their political importance indicate. We can also talk about various programs aiming at supporting the spread of Iranian culture and religion. Concerning the regional conflicts, there has to be noted that based on our observation, Iran obviously seems neither interested in wars and destabilization due to its own security concerns, and trade and economic interests or relations it already has, nor represents the resolution of such conflicts its priority; more evidently, Iran tends to be happy with the status quo in connection with the regional conflicts.
In spite of understanding prospects for realization of different potential for Iran’s economic, trade, energy or political development, and regarding the country’s relations with other states, as well as despite recognition that Iran will keep attempting to grow its influence in regional or global contexts, it seems less possible currently to imagine the concrete role of this country in future due to its, but not only, complex and unstable, not rarely opportunistic domestic or foreign political setting that varies from pro-to anti-Western orientation or even factual fundamentalism. We can conclude that Iran evidently “plays its own game”.
Khatuna Chapichadze is Ph.D in Social Sciences·Political Science, Associate Professor, Deputy Director, Supervisor of the Bachelor’s Educational Program in European Studies, Faculty of Engineering Economics, Media Technologies and Social Sciences Georgian Technical University(GTU).